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Hard pressed office worker and cook here. If I go home at lunchtime and put in a medium sized chicken to roast in the oven can I ensure it's ready to eat when the family get in in the evening?

I've found a recipe instructing me to roast at 120C for 5 hours, uncovered. The recipe mentions ensuring it reaches 85C internally.

Does that sound reasonable? Any other tips to ensure I don't risk a charred/undercooked bird?

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Do you have access to a crock-pot/slow cooker? Personally, I'd be more comfortable using one instead of the oven. – awithrow Aug 26 '10 at 13:32
@awitthrow @vecta @john what is a crockpot? – Tea Drinker Aug 26 '10 at 14:14
A Crock Pot is a trademarked name for a slow cooker, essentially a ceramic or porcelain cooking pot inside of a metal heating element. They are generally recognized as safe to leave on during the day when you're not there. – stephennmcdonald Aug 26 '10 at 14:39
They're great for making meals when the last thing you want to do when you get home is cook. Throw everything in when you wake up, when you come home dinner is ready. – awithrow Aug 26 '10 at 18:18
Why risk it? The dangers of dying from underdone poultry are very much real. Why risk your life like that. – Neil Meyer May 17 at 15:48

11 Answers 11

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I would suggest not roasting a chicken at such a low heat for so long. Here is a response to a similar question on another cooking forum:

A few days ago I printed out a recipe from peacefulnightdove "BEST Slow-Roasted Chicken". It sounded wonderful but was to be roasted at 250 F (126 C) degrees for 5 hours. That sounded like a low temperature to me, so I emailed the County Nutritionist and Health Agent where I lived. Here is her reply: Good for you JoAnn to be suspicious! That is definitely outside the USDA guidelines, and yes bacteria may well be growing for quite a while in there. Poultry especially should not be done at less than 325 degrees. You could use the same spices and onions, increase the temp to 325 and decrease the time. Figure about 20 min per pound for the time. The safest way is to use a meat thermometer, final temp in the thigh should be 180 degrees.

I would also suggest using a crockpot.

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+1 for crockpot. It will not give you as good of a flavor but it's a safe way for office workers to get some variety and slow cooked meat when we wouldn't otherwise have the time. – Dinah Sep 16 '10 at 18:57
The USDA guidelines aren't really based on actual science and are overkill. According to this article (which does a thorough review of various pathogens and their growth rates), poultry would have to spend roughly 15 hours in the range of 50F to 130F before you'd encounter a serious risk of toxin development, and even that could only happen under unusual conditions. I personally wouldn't go 15 hours, but the minimum 325F roasting temperature is nonsense. – Athanasius Jan 7 '13 at 3:38

Warning: Although I've cooked the following low-temperature chicken two or three times without a problem, I'm no longer convinced that it is safe (see this question). Nevertheless, it is advocated by a well-known and respected chef, so I won't delete this answer unless I'm able to establish to my own satisfaction that it is, in fact, unsafe.

According to this article, also backed up with data from the USDA, you can cook chicken as low as 140F as long as the internal temperature of the bird reaches and maintains that temperature for at least 35 minutes.

You may have to do a little calculation and experimentation to find a chicken weight and temperature that hits the five hour mark, but it seems that you can do it safely as long as you have,

  • an oven that can maintain a temperature (I would invest in an oven thermometer to be sure, most oven dials are way out);
  • a good digital probe. Probe the meat in several places to make sure of the temperature;

I would also leave the meat to rest a while so that cooking continues with the residual heat. I don't know how long you would need to feel safe, but I would probably wait 30 mins.

A tip taken from a Heston Blumenthal recipe is to brine the bird before hand. That way you will also kill a lot of bacteria from the skin.


Brining won't kill bacteria. The Blumenthal recipe involves dunking the chicken (see In Search of Perfection p.56) twice for thirty seconds in boiling water. I imagined, erroneously as it turns out, that this was a regular part of the brining process.

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+1 Beat me too it. It feels a little wrong taking a chicken out of the oven without needing oven gloves..! – Dog Ears Aug 26 '10 at 14:35
there's also a brief mention on Heston's wiki page: – Dog Ears Aug 26 '10 at 14:38
I also like to blanch the chicken before long and slow cooking. Heston inspired me to always keep a few frozen cups of water in the freezer so I can give the chicken an ice bath after. In my experience, a convection (fan) oven transfers the low heat much faster then a regular oven. I usually don't brine it. – orip Aug 29 '12 at 8:36
I would clarify that "cook a chicken as low as 140F" refers to a water-bath method where the chicken will reach that temp relatively quickly. When roasting, the heat transfer rate will be a lot lower. I don't think you were implying this, but for those who might misread this answer, 140F is too low of a temperature to roast at. As long as the chicken gets up to that temperature for a while, you're okay--but you want to get there in a reasonable amount of time so you don't grow bad persistent toxins. I personally wouldn't go under about 200F as an oven temp. – Athanasius Jan 7 '13 at 3:58
@Chris Sorry, I didn't actually look up the Blumenthal. I'll write an answer to your other posted question, where detailed info will be more appropriate. But here I would just say that it wouldn't worry me at all to roast at a temperature that would get all of the food up to 140F within, say, 12 hours or so. You'd probably be safe even within a longer period. But roasting at an oven temperature of 140F could potentially take days for a large bird to reach equilibrium, particularly if there is little air motion. I think that's pushing the limit. – Athanasius Jan 7 '13 at 14:43

I think the better choice would be a crock pot. It's much safer to leave one running all day, than to leave your stove on all day.

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Some of you folks are just worry warts. Cook's Country / Cook's Illustrated has a very similar recipe called "French Chicken In A Pot" (but one that is much easier to do than Gary's). Cooking at 225-250 F (~ 110-120C) for 4-5 hours makes this the most awesome chicken my family has ever had. The first time I did it, I did probe breast and thigh to be sure the internal temp made it. Subsequently, I've just trusted it. But in any event, if you get internal temps of 165 (75 or so C), then the bacteria have to be dead (as someone else already mentioned above).

But you do not need to do the boil/dunk using the Cook's Country recipe. You go directly from brine, to pan browning, then to the oven in a dutch oven (with very tight-fitting lid) over the veggies. (I'll run over the process below briefly in its entirety.) Another difference from Gary's is that Cook's Country has you pan brown first, which avoids the problem of trying to brown a very "loose" already-cooked bird that's trying to fall apart on you.

Anyway, here's what I do, more or less following the Cook's Country recipe, but not in all regards because I learned it years ago and now just go from memory:

  • Brine whole chicken ~ 12 hours. For my family of 6, I do one whole bird plus 4 thighs.
  • Pat dry chicken
  • Brown chicken all sides in hot Dutch oven on the stovetop, remove chicken to holding plate
  • 1 cup coarse chopped onion, 1-2 stalks coarse chopped celery, a bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, and 6-10 whole garlic cloves. Saute these all in the Dutch oven in the chicken fat rendered from browning, maybe 7-10 minutes while stirring. You want to drive a lot of the moisture out of the onions and celery.
  • Leave the veggies in the pan bottom and put the bird on top. Roast in tightly covered Dutch oven at 225-250, 4-6 hours depending on bird weight (I usually find a 6.5 lb / 3 kilo bird goes about 5 hours). My lid covers well but is very light so I put a couple of 1 kilo steel barbell weights on the lid to be sure it seats well.
  • Remove bird and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
  • Discard bay leaf and rosemary, then salvage all other veggies with a slotted spoon. Puree these with a stick blender or what not. Take all the pan juices and de-grease, then mix the remainder with the pan juices and make the most amazing chicken gravy you've ever had in your life. Don't forget to put any bird juices from the resting plate into the gravy, too.

Anyway, have fun!

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I would agree and go with a crockpot (or slowcooker). This wikipedia article explains what it is but basically it is a covered electronic pot that allows you to turn it on high or low to cook anything for a longer amount of time. Some of them when the timers go switch automatically to a keep warm setting so if you timer runs out at 5pm and you don't get home until 5:30pm then it won't go bad.

I have one recipe for a whole chicken that I absolutely love. Basically you rinse the chicken the fill it with 1 tablespoon of dice butter and one sliced apple. I use two sliced apples and any extra that doesn't fit in the chicken I put around it. Then you sprinkle the chicken with some seasoning salt. I use Mrs. Dash. I also add about 1/2 cup of water so I know that I will have enough liquid once it is done since I love making gravy (on mashed potatoes) with this recipe. Then you cook it on high for, I believe, 5 hours about. Anyway it is so good and moist and basically falls off the bone.

Good luck. :D

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At the weekend we had exactly the same problem when we went out for the morning. We used the automatic oven function for the first time. If your oven has one it's great.

We put the chicken in the oven from the fridge, set the finish time to 14:30, and the cooking time to 2.5 hrs then left the fresh chicken in the oven. It had 2 hrs to come to room temperature (which is safe and I'd recommend). The oven came on at 12 and when we got in at 1330 there was still plenty of time to do the vegetables.

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120º Celsius (248F) hotter than boiling water. USDA recommends 74ºC (165F) for chicken, so your chicken will be overcooked at 85ºC (185F). If you want to use an oven, try a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken. Take carryover temperature into account (take it out of the oven at 70ºC).

Caramelization will take place at around 160ºC so your chicken will not brown. You might want to crank up your oven to 180ºC for browning.

Your best bet is to prepare the chicken in advance, refrigerate, and brown / heat it when you're going to eat it.

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Dark meat is not overcooked at 85c/185f. Breast meat, yes. But from a quality -- not safety -- perspective, below 180f is often not very pleasant for a thigh or leg. – Sean Hart Jan 7 '13 at 14:35

I've cooked this several times.

My blog

The internal temperature of poultry has to be 60C for at least 12 minutes in order to kill the pathogens present in the bird. The initial twice-dunking in boiling water, a thorough drying out plus using a probe to ensure a consistent temperature will ensure all the bugs have been killed off.

Finally the bird is fried in a red-hot pan all over to caramelise and a final purge.

I fed this to my 8-month pregnant wife and mother and baby are both still very happy one year on. It's a superb technique although as someone mentioned it's unnerving being able to take a chicken out bare-handed and hardly coloured!

If you have any doubts or fears, don't do it. But you'll be missing out.

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Chris' link to Kenji Lopez-Alt's article (see Pasteurization Time section) is spot on: both temperature and time matter for food safety.

However, the method you described seems to be questionable for getting well-cooked legs and thighs. At that temperature, legs and thighs will usually be chewy and bloody, although I imagine the length of time might compensate for that a bit by breaking down the collagen in the muscle. But that brings us to the other drawback: roasting at low temperatures will take forever, not to mention you will get a rather mushy skin instead of a crispy one.

Here's my take on how to address the problem of perfectly cooking the breast and thigh to different temperatures, all while getting a crispy skin and not waiting for Godot. I roast this chicken on weeknights:

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I nearly died from food poisoning due to an undercooked chicken but fortunately got to hospital in time. After 24 hours of vomiting and other nasty fluid emissions, the nurse woke me and cheerily remarked: "Good morning. We thought we lost you last night."

Here's my recipe. Roast the chicken at 250 degrees centigrade and then roast it again. If it doesn't fall away from the bone give it to the cat.

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Not sure if this is meant to be a serious answer or not but that sounds like a good way to end up with charcoal chicken the cat wouldn't eat either. – PeterJ May 19 at 12:41

Brine that bird! If you put the bird in some heavily salted water for an half hour or more, you can kill the bacteria and make it easier to cook because it stays juicy longer at higher temps. Plus the skin will be crisp unlike cooking it in a crockpot.

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@clutch - while with beef the important thing is to kill bacteria on the outside, with chicken and pork there are scary bacteria on the inside too. Brining unfortunately doesn't address those properly. – justkt Aug 26 '10 at 15:57
For an intact muscle of pork there won't be any bacteria on the interior. There might be the worm Trichinosis but this parasite has been virtually eliminated in commercial pork in the United States (~20 cases reported a year). – Stefano Aug 28 '13 at 11:33

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